Wanda Beach Murders
The Wanda Beach Murders, sometimes referred to simply as Wanda, refers to the case of the unsolved murders of Marianne Schmidt and Christine Sharrock at Wanda Beach near Sydney on 11 January 1965. Their partially buried bodies were discovered the next day. The victims, both aged 15, were best friends and neighbours. The brutal nature of the slayings and the fact that the twin killings occurred on a deserted, windswept beach brought publicity to the case. It remains one of the most infamous unsolved Australian murder cases of the 1960s.
Marianne Schmidt had arrived in Melbourne from West Germany with her family in September 1958. At the time, the Schmidt family consisted of parents Helmut and Elisabeth and Marianne's siblings, Helmut Jr., Hans, Peter, Trixie and Wolfgang. Another child, Norbert, was born in Australia the following year. After arriving in Australia, the Schmidts lived in a migrant hostel in Unanderra before settling in Temora. In 1963, Helmut Schmidt moved the family to Sydney after contracting Hodgkin's disease and they found a home in the suburb of West Ryde. In June the next year, Helmut Schmidt died.
Marianne's next-door neighbour was Christine Sharrock. Sharrock lived with her grandparents Jim and Jeanette Taig. Her father died in 1953 and her mother Beryl remarried and was living in the north-western Sydney suburb of Seven Hills. Christine moved in with her grandparents by choice and when the Schmidts arrived next-door, she developed a strong friendship with Marianne, who was the same age. It has never been revealed as to why Christine decided it was best for her to live with her grandparents and not her mother and stepfather.
Last movements and murder
On 1 January 1965, Christine and Marianne visited the beach at Cronulla, which had been a popular picnic spot for the Schmidts. The following day, the Schmidt children visited the beach there again without Christine. Elisabeth Schmidt had meanwhile been admitted to a hospital for a major operation, leaving Helmut Jr and Marianne in charge of the household. On 9 January, Marianne and Christine asked Elisabeth if they could take the younger children to Cronulla the next day and were given permission; however, rain prevented the trip.
On Monday 11 January, accompanied by Marianne's youngest four siblings, the girls again set off for Cronulla. They arrived at about 11am, but it was very windy and the beach was closed. The group therefore walked down to the southern end of the beach and sheltered among the rocks. Eight-year-old Wolfgang Schmidt still wanted to swim, so Marianne went with him to a shallow part of the surf away from the rocks. After they returned to the group, they had a picnic. At some point during this time, Christine left the others and went off by herself. There is no evidence of her whereabouts during this period, but after her death, it was discovered she had consumed alcohol and some food that was different from the rest of the party; it is suspected this occurred while she was alone. It was also during this time that Wolfgang noticed a boy hunting crabs. Later, he claimed to have seen the same boy twice more, once in the company of his sister and Christine and again sometime much later walking alone. There has been doubt about his description of this person, as Wolfgang variously suggested he had a homemade speargun, a knife, or both.
When Christine returned to the group, it was decided to take a walk into the sandhills behind Wanda Beach. Around 1 pm, the group had reached a point around 400 metres beyond the Wanda Surf Club, and they stopped to shelter behind a sandhill as the younger children were complaining about the conditions. Marianne told her younger siblings that she and Christine would return to the rocky area at the south end of the beach where they had hidden their bags, then return to fetch the children and head home. Instead, however, the girls continued into the sandhills. When Peter Schmidt told them they were going the wrong way, they laughed at him and walked on. The Schmidt children remained waiting behind the sandhill until 5 pm. They returned to collect their bags and then went home. The girls were reported missing at 8:30 pm.
On Tuesday, 12 January, Peter Smith was taking his three young nephews for a walk through the Wanda Beach sandhills. Some distance north of the surf club, he discovered what appeared to be a department store mannequin buried in the sand. He brushed away sand from the hand and realised that it was a body. The police were called from the surf club. At this point Smith believed he had found only one young woman.
When the bodies were uncovered, Marianne Schmidt was found lying on her right side with her left leg bent. Christine Sharrock was face down, her head against the sole of Schmidt's left foot. From a 34-metre long drag mark leading to the scene, police determined that Sharrock had fled, possibly while Schmidt was dying, only to have been caught, murdered and dragged back to the body of her friend. Attempts had been made to rape both girls. Sharrock's skull had been fractured by a blow to the back of the head and she had been stabbed multiple times. Schmidt's throat had been slashed and she too had been stabbed several times.
An intensive search was undertaken to find the murder weapons, a long knife and some sort of blunt instrument, but they were never found. Tonnes of sand from around the murder scene were sifted through and various items were found, including a blood-stained knife blade, but police were unable to link it to the murders. The autopsy for Christine Sharrock found alcohol in her bloodstream, but it was not found in Marianne's autopsy. Semen was found on both girls but the autopsy showed that both girls' hymens were intact. Schmidt's brother Hans had viewed photos of her body and said, "She'd been stabbed 25 to 30 times. She'd almost been decapitated because her throat had been cut so viciously."
A $20,000 reward was posted. The last official sighting of Marianne and Christine was by local fireman Dennis Dostine, who was walking in the area with his son and saw the girls walking about 800 yards north of the surf club. He told police that they seemed to be hurrying, and one of the girls was looking behind her as if she were being followed. Dostine did not see anybody else. There had been a number of people seen in the area who were never identified; Sydney in 1965 was a conservative place and the area around Wanda Beach attracted a range of people, who did not necessarily want to identify themselves to police, which frustrated the police investigation. A large police investigation failed to identify the killer.
Cec Johnson, a former detective who had investigated the Wanda Beach murders, was given a painting in 1975 by Alan Bassett. Bassett had been jailed for murdering Carolyn Orphin, a 19-year-old woman, in June 1966. Sent to prison for life, he served 29 years before being released in 1995. The painting showed an abstract landscape. Johnson became convinced that it showed a scene from the Wanda Beach murders that only the killer would know, as well as clues to the murders of Kruger and Dowlingkoa. The painting was believed by Johnson to show blood trails, a broken knife blade and the body of a victim. He became convinced that Bassett was the Wanda Beach killer. Other detectives were far less convinced, but Johnson wrote a book about the case. Before it could be published, however, he was knocked down and killed in an accident. The book was never published. Other detectives, while retaining professional respect for Johnson, concluded that he was wrong in his belief that Bassett was the killer.
One person he convinced, however, was crime reporter Bill Jenkings. Jenkings repeated Johnson's claims in his ghostwritten memoirs, As Crime Goes By, devoting a whole chapter to the Wanda Beach murders. Most of the chapter was essentially a repeat of what he had written in his earlier book Crime Reporter, but he mentioned Johnson, Bassett and the painting as well. Bassett commenced proceedings for defamation in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, which he was entitled to do after the attainder rule was abolished by the Felons Act 1981 (NSW), although, given his mental illness history, the proceedings were commenced by the Protective Commissioner as his tutor. After a ruling on the form and capacity of the imputations (Bassett v Ironbark Press, Levine J, 14 October 1994) the publisher pleaded defences of justification (Bassett being a convicted murderer) and the proceedings never went further.
Since his release, Bassett has voluntarily given a DNA sample to clear his name, but whether or not he has been eliminated as a suspect by DNA has yet to be publicised. Another suspect is Christopher Wilder. Two years prior to the Wanda beach murders he had been convicted of a gang-rape on a Sydney beach which led police to include him as a suspect for Wanda beach. Wilder emigrated to the United States in 1969 and later become infamous after he became a serial killer in the early 1980s. In the first half of 1984, he committed eight murders and attempted several more. He accidentally killed himself during a struggle with police in New Hampshire on 13 April 1984.
A third suspect, not well publicised until 1998, is Derek Percy. Percy had been imprisoned since 1969 for the murder of a child on a beach in Victoria. He was considered too dangerous to be released and is the prime suspect for a number of other murders of children in Melbourne and Sydney. Percy died 24 July 2013 from cancer. While Percy can be linked to the location on the date of the murders there were no other links found. It was hoped he would make confessions on his deathbed but these confessions never came. Percy is considered a leading suspect for the Wanda Beach murders by the police. None of the three suspects fit the description of the youth seen talking to the girls by witnesses. This person has never been identified.
The case was reopened as a cold case in 2007 and in 2012 blood from a possible knife wipe mark found on the clothing of one of the girls was identified as that of a male but DNA testing could learn nothing more from the sample. Police are optimistic that future improvements in DNA technology will eventually identify the killer. In February 2012, however, the NSW Police's Cold Case Unit announced that a weak male DNA sample had been extracted from a pair of jeans worn by one of the girls. While admitting that current technology was unable to provide more information, police were confident that future advances would give more assistance. In July 2014, police said that a semen sample taken from Marianne's body had been lost and could not be located despite an extensive search.
Two far less well known murders also occurred during early 1966 (in the days following the nationally publicised disappearance of the Beaumont children) which, police at the time speculated, might have been the work of the Wanda Beach killer.
- On 29 January 1966, a cleaning lady named Wilhelmina Kruger was killed in the Piccadilly Arcade in Wollongong. Her body was discovered by a butcher when he arrived to work. She had been strangled and mutilated. Police believed that the murder might have been the work of the Wanda Beach killer, but would not say why.
- On 17 February 1966, a prostitute named Anna Toskayoa Dowlingkoa went missing after leaving a nightclub in Kings Cross. Ten days later, her mutilated body was found by a truck driver at the side of a road in Menai. Police immediately linked her murder with that of Wilhelmina Kruger. They believed that the murder might have been the work of the Wanda Beach killer, but once again, would not say what led them to believe this.
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